At the end of a tough workout, it's almost too easy to relegate your ab training to a few sets of half-hearted crunches. After all, you worked hard during your session, and your abs were surely involved somewhere along the way. Furthermore, if your nutrition is on point, there's no real reason to train abs directly, right?
It's true that your abs are engaged during many of the exercises you do every day; squats, deadlifts, overhead presses, and even dumbbell exercises all engage your core to keep your spine straight and your body stable. But if you want to make your abs stronger or make them pop on stage, you may need to add some direct ab training into your regimen.
A few sets of half-hearted crunches won't do the trick, either. To really bring size and definition to your six-pack, you need to achieve a low level of body fat—read "17 Tips to Help You Lose Fat Faster" if you want to supercharge your shred—and train your abs with as much intelligence and intensity as you do other body parts.
Don't worry: If you've been sorely lacking a solid ab workout, the elite athletes of MuscleTech have you covered! Check out their pro ab-training tips, nutrition advice, and efficient ab workouts. Next time you hit the gym, you'll be armed with everything you need to carve your six-pack into stone.
When creating his abdominal workouts, fitness model and physique competitor Ed Honn focuses on balance. "I like to include exercises that hit the anterior and posterior core, along with some rotational and stability work," he explains. "You want a workout that will make your abs pop and give you real-world athleticism."
To get lean, defined abs, Honn says high-intensity interval training (HIIT) is his cardio method of choice to burn fat. "I know the day after running hills or doing a hard circuit, my abs are always more visible," he says.
For amateur bodybuilder Jesse Hobbs, the hanging leg raise is his favorite ab exercise. "This exercise is great for an overall burn on the core, especially those lower abs that are very difficult to target," he explains. "If your leg weight isn't enough, intensify the lift by putting a plate or dumbbell between your feet."
Hobbs also suggests maintaining tension on the lower abs by keeping your legs from completely resting at the bottom of the exercise. Don't let your legs hang slack, which essentially gives your abs a rest break.
Of course, to really make your abs pop, Hobbs says it's all about lowering your body fat. "Since the best way to get your abs visible is by bringing your body fat down, focus on eating healthy and doing different types of cardio training," he advises.
His favorite cardio regimen includes HIIT because it helps you shed fat without burning into the muscle you've built.
To help ensure she's building maximum core strength, IFBB figure pro Elissa Martis slows down each movement. She doesn't rush through the exercises, which would move the focus away from her core. "Focus on maintaining the muscle tension during your workouts," she says. "Perform each rep slowly with maximum control to protect the lower back."
Because abs need time to recover and rebuild like any other muscle group, Martis only trains them once per week "Plus, if you maintain proper form on your other lifts throughout the week, you'll be recruiting your abs to help with stability," she says.
"Always remember," she adds, "that abs are built in the gym, but made visible in the kitchen,"
Circuit, 3-4 sets
Fitness competitor Danielle Beausoleil says consistency in her diet is the main reason she has good abs. Growing up, Beausoleil says she was always trying to push the limit on her physical conditioning, but it wasn't until she started eating right that her abs showed up.
Once Beausoleil got her nutrition in order, she realized that core strength was as important as being lean. "Having good core strength is important to help maintain proper form and function for full-body exercises like squats, deadlifts, and presses," she says. "When doing these intense moves, I feel much more strain in my abdominals than on days that are dedicated to abdominals-only training."
Beausoleil says she prefers sneaking in ab work by doing exercises like crunches and planks between her normal sets. "By adding these between my exercise sets instead of resting, I can save myself time and burn more calories."
Whenever Beausoleil dedicates a full day to abs, she prefers to bust out a fast-paced circuit to get in a maximum amount of work in a short amount of time.
Circuit, 3-4 sets
Another firm believer in the importance of a good diet, fitness model Jimmy Everett says that paying attention to your diet is the fastest way to make your abs pop.
However, when it comes to physical ab training, Everett says, "It's important to focus on your abdominal muscles during each exercise to gain that mind-muscle connection." If you rush through the exercises, you can't stress the muscles as much as you should.
In addition to fostering a mind-muscle connection to your abs, Everett also says to focus on the stretch and squeeze of each exercise.
When NPC bikini competitor Katie Miller attacks her ab workouts, she makes sure she always includes exercises that hit her upper abs, lower abs, and obliques. "I like to keep my oblique exercises light, though, to keep my waist as small as possible but still add some shape," she notes.
"Sometimes, it's difficult to 'feel exercises as you do them, especially hanging knee raises," Miller says. "So, do your best to think about your core working as you do each movement."
Miller always ends her workout with a burnout set to fully fatigue her muscles. "I love doing the weighted crunch machine with my legs extended out in front of me for greater lower-abdominal engagement."
To look her best on stage, Miller takes her ab training and nutrition very seriously. "Abs are made in the kitchen, but you must also shape them in the gym with proper exercise and execution."
Implementing Ab Training
There's no need to go overboard and hit one of these workouts every day. Treat your abs like any other muscle group and do a tough workout 1-2 times per week. Allow them some time to recover, especially if you're doing heavy, compound lifts during the week.